Net Walk is a walking performance in which audio and video from the immediate environment is broadcast online to a remote audience via an internet stream. Netwalk was conceived of during 2020 when many in-person, physical events were either cancelled or not possible. The piece was developed through a virtual residency at the Digital Arts Studio in Belfast and supported by the British Council’s Net//Work programme.
Net Walk builds on my piece Ambulation, a soundwalking performance which uses a variety of field recording techniques and sound processing technologies. Netwalk extends Ambulation to move to presenting this work to an online audience. During the Net//Work residency programme I experimented with the new possibilities for this kind of performance.
FROM AMBULATING TO NETWALKING
In Ambulation, I meet a group of people somewhere and take them on a sound walk. Sounds from the immediate environment are collected, processed and broadcast to the group, each wearing wireless headphones. The performance takes place within a diversity of spaces with contrasts between roads, pedestrian walkways, indoor and outdoor spaces, tunnels, bridges, rivers, churches, cemeteries, parks, lakes and ponds, green areas, open and confined spaces and any other sites that provide sonically and visually dynamic environmental changes. In Net Walk I follow these same princibles but I do not meet a group of people, rather I walk alone and stream the results of my journey to an online space.
Net Walk is an improvisation with environmental sounds encountered during the walk, no pre-recorded sound is used in the performance, all the sounds are heard by the audience and the performer (me) at the same time (there is no pre-fade listening, the first time the audience hear a sound is also the first time I hear it), this is the same with the video, nothing is pre-planned, everything that happens infront of the camera is presented, there is no editing or post production. To allow me to do this kind of walk I developed a specially made system using different microphones interfaced with Pure Data. This enables me to collect, loop, process and manipulate acoustic and electromagnetic signals occurring in the environments we move through.
Originally all sound processing was done using a laptop running closed in a backpack, I recently shifted my system to the Bela platform and realised the many new possibilities this opens up.
In a small bag I carry a portable field recorder (Zoom F8), plugged into this are two spaced omnidirectional microphones placed on steel wire suspended above the bag, a electromagnetic inductor (from LOM), a hydrophone (from Aquarian), a homemade ultrasonic microphone, contact microphones and a SOMA Ether radio demodulator are also plunged into the various inputs. Any of all of these devices can be implemented and used at any time during the walk. The output of the F8 is plugged into the Bela board stereo input. Connected to the Bela is a Korg NanoKontrol which allows me to control the patch, this is velcroed to the top of the bag.
The output of the Bela is connected to an iRig Stream, a sound card compatable with a smart phone. I use Larix Broadcaster to bring the audio from the soundcard and video from the inbuit phone camera together ready to stream. I broadcast the stream to YouTube but I hope to use an open source alternative in the future. The camera is placed in a selfie stick style holder and strapped to the front of the bag.
Using the Zoom and the NanoKontrol I am able to mix in different microphones, loop sounds, create different loop lengths, layer recordings, change the pitch and add delay lines and reverberance. The Pure Data patch is always being revisited and altered depending on the different environments I present Ambulation within. Ambulation isn’t just developed in my studio and then presented through the performance, it’s constantly in dialogue with the sonic environments I present it within and the listening technologies used.
An example Pure Data patch for the Net Walk soundwalk can be found here.
More detail of the Ambulation soundwalk and system can be found in this paper I wrote for the NIME 2020 conference in collaboration with John Bowers.
Thanks to the Digital Arts Studio and the British Council for supporting the development of this work. Early versions of Net Walk were presented in collaboration with We’re All Bats.